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Life on a Tidal River

Ebb and Flow of Bangor History

Early Railroads in Bangor

(Page 1 of 2) Print Version 

By William Cook, Archivist/Special Collections Librarian, Bangor Public Library

Knickerbocker Express, ca. 1938
Knickerbocker Express, ca. 1938
Bangor Public Library

Bangor was one of the first places in the country to have a railroad. Its railroad ran in 1836, only six years after the very first run on the Baltimore and Ohio. The Maine State Legislature granted a charter to the Old Town Railway Company owned by Edward and Samule Smith and Rufus Dwinel in 1832. The Chief Engineer, Joseph W. Taney, and his crew surveyed the route and began construction. The company ran short of funds and the building ceased. In 1833 a new group of investors chartered the Bangor and Piscataquis Canal Rail Road Company with the State. In 1835 construction began again and on November 20, 1836 the first train ran from Bangor to Old Town, and the line opened to the public on the 29th November. The company ran for thirteen years until it was sold to Gen. Samuel Veazie in 1849 who built a bridge across the Penobscot and extended the tracks to Milford. At this time General Veazie renamed it the Bangor, Old Town and Milford. He continued to run the railroad until his death on March 12, 1868. The General’s heirs continued to “run the road” until the European and North American Railroad bought it out in 1869. The last BO & M train ran on April 16, 1870.

The line was just over 12 miles, from the station in the block between Cumberland and Curve Streets to the terminus in Milford. The average speed of the trains was around 6 miles per hour. The Gauge was 4’8” with the earliest rails being strap iron spiked to 6” planks; each plank was 14 feet long. One of the problems with this rail was that it came loose from the plank and at times came up through the floor of the coaches. In 1849 it was replaced with “chair rail” and later, in 1867, with the now familiar “T” rail. (Chair rail was known bullhead rail and the “chair” held the rail to the ties.) The railroad operated six locomotives, two carriages for passengers, a baggage car, and a number of freight cars. The first locomotive was the “Pioneer”. The line transported laths, shingles, clapboards, and lumber in addition to passengers. Trains ran three times daily and the fare was 37 cents one-way.

Penobscot River Railroad

The Penobscot River Railroad was a “railroad that never was”. It was chartered by the state in 1836 to go from Bucksport to Milford with a branch line to Orono. It was supposed to meet up with the Bangor Old Town and Milford Railroad. $30,000 to $40,000 was subscribed for the project; however because of the financial crash of 1837 the funds never materialized, and the project failed.

European and North American RR

The European and North American Company was chartered by the State August 20, 1850. In 1855 the railroad acquired tracks from the Penobscot Railroad Company (chartered in 1851) and right of way between Bangor and Milford that they had acquired from the Bangor and Orono Railroad (chartered in 1847). In 1863 the railroad issued bonds and raised enough capital to extend the line to Vanceboro, on the Canadian border, and connect with the New Brunswick European and North American Railroad. The first section opened in 1868 to Olemon, then to Mattawamkeag in 1869, then to Vanceboro in 1871.

The official opening was held on October, 1871 with President Grant, Lord Lisgar, Governor General of Canada, Maine’s Governor, and many other dignitaries attending.

Main Street Arch Grant Reception
Main Street Arch Grant Reception
Bangor Public Library

General Grant in Bangor

President Ulysses S. Grant visited Bangor in October, 1871 as part of a delegation that officially opened the European and North American Railroad, which was intended to link New York with Canada and, via ships, to Europe. It would be the final step in the transcontinental railroad, linking Halifax to San Francisco and Europe. The proprietors of the railroad had spent a significant $4.5 million on its construction, anticipating that the passengers would bring with them social and financial prestige.

Although Grant was the guest of honor, a great collection of dignitaries were on hand: the proprietors of the railroad, the Governor of Maine, the Governor-General of Canada, Lord Lisgar, General Joshua L. Chamberlain, Speaker of the House Hannibal Hamlin, Cabinet Secretaries, the Mayor of Bangor, and other noteworthy figures. Bangor planned days of celebration to bookend the overnight stay of the party: there was a parade, military review, fire engine trials, a regatta, a cotillion reception for the President’s party, and illuminated streets. Bunting was borrowed from Boston, and British flags from Canada. Citizens and businesses were encouraged to decorate windows, and the paper carried a notice entreating anyone who could spare flowers to decorate the tables of Norumbega Hall, and for spectators to beware of pick-pockets.

The event went well, in spite of the rain that fell that evening: the parade was a success, the President’s speeches—and those of the other guests—were greeted with enthusiastic cheers, and the decorations were much remarked on. The official party continued to Vassalboro to formally open the line, and Bangor was left to happily reflect on its success.

On the first of December, 1872 the Maine and the Western (New Brunswick) companies merged. By 1875 the consolidated company was in default. The two railroads separated and each reorganized. The E & NA was formally reorganized in October of 1880, and ran till 1882 when the line (tracks and rolling stock) was leased to the Maine Central on April 1.

Bucksport and Bangor

This was a short line chartered March 1, 1870 to run 18.8 miles from Bangor to Bucksport. The line was surveyed in the fall of 1872, and construction began in the spring of 1873. The road opened in December of 1874, and was leased by the E & NA. Before the lease expired, in March of 1879, the Mortgage Trustees bought the rail line at the Sheriff’s sale. The gauge was changed from Standard to 3 foot. In Penobscot County the road ran from Bangor, crossed the bridge into Brewer thence on to Orrington. The tracks are again, now standard gauge and are a part of Guilford Transportation.

Maine Central

Union Station, Bangor, ca. 1910
Union Station, Bangor, ca. 1910
Bangor Public Library

The Maine Central Railroad (now owned by Guilford Transportation) began life as the Penobscot and Kennebec that was chartered the 5th of April 1845. Construction actually began in the spring of 1853 on the line from Waterville to Bangor. The 55 mile stretch was opened in 1855. This connected with the Androscoggin and Kennebec that went from Danville Junction to Waterville. A rail way was now open for the first time from Bangor to Portland, and points south. On November 1, 1856 the Waterville to Bangor line was leased to and operated by the Androscoggin and Kennebec. In 1862 the two lines merged and renamed themselves the Maine Central. From 1862 to 1873 the Maine Central acquired a number of other smaller lines, and in 1873 the Legislature formally consolidated the Maine Central. Throughout the 19th and the first half of the 20th Centuries the Maine Central acquired smaller lines, including the E & NA, to become the largest railroad in Maine. By 1882 the Central owned 58 locomotives, 1,119 cars (25 passenger cars, 25 baggage, mail or express cars, 645 box cars, 474 platform cars, and 40 service cars). The company either owned or leased almost 355 miles of track.

Tin Bridge Wreck

The Tin Bridge collapsed under the weight of an express mail train on August 9, 1871. Five of the six cars were sent skidding off the tracks and down an embankment. The brakeman and a passenger were killed, and many others injured. When news reached Bangor, physicians were dispatched to the scene. The next day, spectators and photographers flocked to the site of the wreck: 10,000 people were estimated to have viewed the wreckage, and photographs were widely distributed.

The inquiry conducted by the MCRR was reported in the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier, which carried testimonies from the hearings in the weeks following the crash. The bridge was found to have been rotten in the center of the beams, where earlier inspections had missed its severity. The bridge itself was eighteen years old, and had been built when trains were less frequent and lighter. Blame was also attached to the engineer, who was found to have been speeding to make up time against instructions. This resulted in additional stress to the bridge, contributing to its failure.